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Tribute to Olawale Babatunde Oloyede (1947 – 2017)

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There is something uncanny when you insert an opening and closing dates after the name of a person. What it simply means is that the journey of life of such a person ended on the closing date; no further input is accommodated by the individual so-closed.

My first contact with Tunde Oloyede was in the arts theatre of the University of Ibadan in 1971, as a young student. Tunde already had a degree in Sociology from the same university but was so much a part of the Department of Theatre Arts that immediately after his degree, he enrolled for the Post Graduate Diploma (PGD) in Theatre Arts, as most people couldn’t reconcile the bubbling and restless young actor and multi-talented individual with a study in Sociology.

Truth of the matter was that as at the time OBO (as we fondly called him) was getting into the university, there was only a School of Drama (established in 1962) that ran the Diploma in Drama programme. The big lecturers in the department at the time were Prof. J. A. Adedeji (pronounced with a heavy English accent), Trinidadian Dexter Lyndersay and his wife Dani, Dapo Adelugba (the darling ‘Uncle D’ of the boys), Demas Nwoko (designer and theatre architect), Funmilayo Sowunmi (speech expert), among others. Americana style-dressing Bayo Oduneye (stage management) was to join after his MFA programme in Pittsburgh in 1972. Prof. Wole Soyinka had been around the previous year after the Kakuri experience under the regime of General Yakubu Gowon, to produce Kongi’s Harvest film.

A memorable and major production in 1971 was Wale Ogunyemi’s Kiriiji, directed by Dapo Adelugba, which starred Tunde Oloyede as Fabunmi, the Ekiti warlord. Others in the cast included Harry Dasuku as Ogedengbe, Niyi Osundare as Aduloju and yours truly as Ogunmodede, who rode a horse into the Theatre-on-Wheels stage. Oloyede’s portrayal of Fabunmi was only to be matched a year later by Jimi Solanke’s Ovonrawen Nogbaisi, written and directed by Ola Rotimi. Oloyede left the University of Ibadan and was immediately employed as a Producer/Director at then NBC/TV before the era of NTA.

We reconnected when I relocated to the University of Lagos in 1976 and both became common faces at the numerous productions at the new National Theatre (commissioned on September 30, 1976 by General Olusegun Obasanjo, with a performance by the famous Ipi Tombi Musical and Dance Troupe, of which I served as Lighting/Technical Director on a performance tour of Nigeria. Oloyede was in charge of recording the events for national broadcast.

Shortly after, came FESTAC ’77 with all the performances, colloquia and visiting troupes. It was after this that Oloyede gave me my first private lighting design engagement at the National Theatre for a TV recording, with a fee of One Hundred and Fifty Naira (N150). Of course, for someone who earned Five Hundred Naira (N500) a month, this was obviously a lot of money. His masterful handling of the stage direction of Elechi Amadi’s Isiburu with Paul Worika, starring Jimmy “Okoro” Johnson was the quintessential production for decades.

Not wanting to write a thesis as a tribute to my friend of over four and half decades, Oloyede’s key attributes could be summarised as follows:

Active Social Life
He led an active social life and was married for almost four decades. I recall arriving from a training programme in Italy on the night of his Bachelor’s Eve in June 1978, to his darling, Bimbo Roberts. Chief was also an ardent billiards player at the Eagle Club in Surulere. He, along with Femi Robinson, taught me how to play billiards. One sport that I never really understood was his engagement with Tombola and the rituals of calling matching figures. I never got the hang of it and it was usually played late at night!

His famous residence at James Robertson Street, Surulere, was truly the home of the boys. Anyone who didn’t have a place to stay in the late 1970s was always welcome there. At any given time when we visited, you would find different types of sponges and soaps in the bathroom.

Professional And Business Engagement
On the professional side, Oloyede’s penchant for professionalism and absolute creativity was unparalleled. He was devoted to his profession and gave the very best in whatever he did. As a Television Producer/Director of the famous Village Headmaster Series, he combined a huge sense of humour in running the series for almost seven years. His other television programmes included Arm Chair Theatre and For Better for Worse, which preceded the Nigerian video film industry later known as Nollywood. When he relocated from his position as Controller of Programmes at NTA to the advertising world at Lintas, it was also a continuation of the drive for excellence.

Oloyede, along with Elder Steve Rhodes and Femi Odugbemi, was to be instrumental to the establishment of the Independent Television Producers Association of Nigeria (ITPAN). Oloyede was multi-talented and even played music with Tunde Oyelana’s band, The Benders, in Ibadan in the early 1970s. A side of Oloyede not very well known was the businessman in him. It was not therefore surprising that he easily teamed up with his wife in running the Pomp Supermarket in Festac Town.

He thereafter devoted his professional practice to the setting up of Media International Ltd in Surulere, introducing new and famous advert concepts and ideas, including the famous Give me my Tally Number!

70th And Last Birthday!
We all gathered at the Oloyedes 5th Avenue Festac home to mark Chief’s 70th birthday on April 3, 2017. It was indeed a day worth celebrating, as we never knew the date would ever come given his state of health. Chief had been down for almost four years with his devoted wife, her mother (Mama Roberts) and the children taking care of a once vibrant man. Of course, we were all there, those of us that had known him over the years. From his secondary school days came Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, with Bayo Awala, representing his co-producers at NTA, while Tunde Kelani stood tall among his professional collaborators.

My condolences and appreciation go to Bimbo, Adeola, Bukola, Tunde Junior and Mama Roberts for all the care. May OBO’s gentle soul rest in perfect peace in his ancestral home, Iyin Ekiti, reminiscent of the carnival that he organised for his father’s exit in 1988… Amen.

•Oni is of University of Lagos



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